Our nation’s general aviation industry is dying and our innovation is its last hope. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines general aviation (GA) as non-scheduled aircraft operations. Most non-aviators believe that GA is simply light airplane operations, but the reality is more complex, and crucial to the future of transport. GA performs three critical functions: it serves as the cradle of future airline transport pilots, acts as a laboratory where the most advanced aircraft are built, and provides a lifestyle filled with passion and wonder that supports economies throughout the United States.
Since 1980, the cost of aviation fuel has increased over 1200%. These rising costs have made it increasingly difficult for people to enter aviation and unsurprisingly the number of certificated pilots has dropped over 30% since that time. Today, we’re facing a major pilot shortage.
A strong general aviation industry doesn’t just foster future pilots, it also supports local economies and preserves our nation's most impressive resource of integrated airports. The United States has the most airports of any country by far; 13,513, representing a third of all the airports in the world. Sadly, however, these airports are closing at alarming rates and the jobs that go with them, from restaurants, management staff, aviation services, and air traffic controllers are disappearing.
We can save GA and solve these problems by applying our new innovation to an age-old general aviation practice.
For decades, private pilots have been legally sharing their flying expenses with their passengers. For pilots, it's a crucial method of financing a passion for flying, and for passengers, it's an alternative way to reach a destination or experience flying in a private plane. To be clear, this is not “Uber for the skies” and there is no profit opportunity, rather, it’s pilots splitting the fuel costs with their passengers.
Before the advent of the internet and social media, pilots and passengers met via physical bulletin boards at local airports. Given the limited medium of cork boards, the practice was limited and sporadic. In 2013, we founded, Flytenow, an internet flight-sharing startup offering an online bulletin board to facilitate cost-sharing arrangements. By showing a pilot’s qualifications, confirming them with the FAA, and enabling both parties to connect via social media and direct messaging, we created an efficient, safe and consistent method of decreasing aircraft ownership and operating costs by up to 75%.
That was, until the FAA ruled in mid-2014 that any pilot using the internet to publicly arrange cost-sharing flights had to comply with the same regulations applicable to the airlines. With that, flight sharing in the US came to an abrupt stop, and general aviation continued its downward trend.
On the back of our initial success, companies popped up all over Europe to offer the same service and while the FAA shut down online flight sharing in the US, their European counterpart, the European Aviation Safety Agency, embraced it. Today, online flight-sharing in Europe is on track to do 60,000 flights per year and has been so successful they have even expanded it to allow more types of aircrafts. Watching our idea thrive elsewhere instead of the birthplace of aviation is one of the hardest things we’ve had to endure as pilots and entrepreneurs.
So, we committed to working with Congress to pass legislation with a simple guiding principle: a pilot should be able to communicate to an audience of any size via any method he or she chooses to share a flight, so long as it is not for profit.
Now, thanks to the powerful efforts of Sen. Mike Lee and other members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans support the revised Aviation Empowerment Act, in which the FAA reviewed and proposed language consistent with our guiding principle and allows for Internet-based expense sharing.
In the midst of a key Senate Committee considering this language, our very own Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) intervened against it. AOPA is a non-profit organization founded 78 years ago with the purported goal of preserving a pilot’s freedom to fly and representing GA interests. Yet, AOPA’s stated vision of preserving pilot freedoms and fighting to keep General Aviation accessible to all stands in direct contradiction to its actions regarding the revised Aviation Empowerment Act, and, indeed, the commitment AOPA makes to all of its members.
AOPA’s opposition to this measure is baffling, as it is undeniably pro-General Aviation. Among other things, it:
- Decreases the cost of aircraft ownership.
- Promotes safety by allowing pilots to keep their skills current.
- Stimulates economies at regional airports and FBOs.
- Brings the U.S. in line with the European Aviation Safety Agency, who embraced flight sharing years ago.
It is difficult to speculate regarding AOPA’s motives, but one thing is resoundingly clear: AOPA is siding with business aviation industry lobbyists, ignoring the interests of their own members, and departing from Europe’s general aviation success story.
We also understand that despite this incredibly important issue for General Aviation, AOPA has refused to survey its membership to determine whether they support flight sharing. Thus it seems clear that AOPA is ignoring the pilot members it exists to support, in favor of the shortsighted views of a few members of its management team.
The rest of the world is either moving in the direction of freedom for pilots or has already done so, but AOPA is stifling this innovation in the birthplace of aviation.
We are committed to the passage of the revised Aviation Empowerment Act and we need your help in mobilizing support for the bill.
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Press: firstname.lastname@example.orgS. 2650. AVIATION EMPOWERMENT ACT. (revised)The Administrator shall permit a person who holds a pilot certificate to communicate with the public, in any manner the person determines appropriate, to facilitate an aircraft flight for which the pilot and passengers share aircraft operating expenses in accordance with section 61.113(c) of title 14, Code of Federal Regulations (or any successor regulation) without requiring a certificate under part 119 of title 14, Code of Federal Regulations (or any successor regulation).